Heath’s long wait is over
Heath had waited more than 20 years for a first crack at Old Crossleyans in a league match and they took their opportunity with both hands yesterday.
The North Dean men were 42-13 home winners in Yorkshire One, building a 27-6 lead inside an hour and then snuffing out a mini comeback from Crocs with 15 points in the final 10 minutes.
Heath have never played higher than their current level but newly-returned coach Dave Harrison, their treble-winning skipper in 2002, is targeting promotion in the next two or three seasons.
A top half finish looks a realistic target this term. Their workmanlike pack is due to be strengthened by a back row recruit this week; the arrival of experienced stand off Mark Sales has brought structure to their attack; and they have speed to burn out wide.
Whether they can quite cut it against the likes of Bradford & Bingley, Malton & Norton, Bridlington, Hullensians and the other local side in the section, Old Brodleians, remains to be seen.
Crocs started the season in a very low place following relegation, were humbled at Old Brodleians and then coach Russ Lawrance stepped down.
A win over a poor-looking Selby side the previous week boosted confidence and their performance under stand-in coach Howard Cooper yesterday was arguably another small step forward.
Elland RL prop Cayci Pearson, who slotted in at No 8 for his debut, brought some much needed size and strength to a pack which is holding its own in the scrums.
On another fine early-season Saturday, there was some excellent kicking from both sides out or hand and off the tee, with one 60-yard touch-finder from Heath fullback Ezra Hinchliffe particularly noteworthy.
Referee Jonathan Hill policed the offside line very tightly and Heath felt that he did them few favours in a first half book ended by successful penalty shots for Crocs winger Ryan Sweeney.
In between, Heath accrued 17 points. Ian Downsborough’s one-handed off-load enabled Hinchliffe to go under the posts on 13 minutes and Sales rounded off another Heath attack on 29 minutes, Hinchliffe adding both conversions and an easy 19th minute penalty.
Hooker Mark Puttick scored from close range six minutes after the break and when a Hinchliffe penalty took the score out to 27-6 the only question appeared to be how long it would take the hosts to bank a four-try bonus point.
Crocs, who caused the home defence some embarrassment with breaks through the middle by Pearson and Navneet Sembi, took the game to their hosts and when their forwards disrupted a Heath scrum Pearson was unstoppable from 10 metres.
Sweeney converted to make it 27-13 and centre Neil Richardson looked to have narrowed the gap even further but was ruled to have grounded the ball just short.
That proved a turning point and Heath stretched clear in the closing stages in spite of having No 8 Darren Neilly in the sin-bin.
Hugely promising teenage winger Callum Harriet-Brown was denied one try from long range by an offside decision but he ran quickly and elusively to touch down for the bonus score.
Scrum half Dom Walsh, Heath’s new skipper, then showed persistence to score wide out.
Hinchliffe’s conversion of Harriet-Brown’s try and a penalty with the last act of the game completed an ultimately convincing win for the hosts.